Brian Boman, Jean Robert Estime 2015-02-23 23:32:01
Our experience includes working with agricultural producers and associations in developing countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and Central America, Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Each of these regions has its own set of challenges concerning food production. However, some issues are common to all developing countries, including low yields; improper post-harvest handling and storage; lack of access to long-term capital at reasonable rates; land ownership or allocation practices that result in uneconomic production units; degraded or non-existent infrastructure; lack of education on agricultural production practices; lack of good-quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and equipment; lack of access to extension professionals who can demonstrate improved practices; little knowledge of markets and how to maximize returns; degraded or salinized water and soil; and, in many cases, government instability that makes investing in agriculture risky. With all these challenges, it is important to realize that long-term food sustainability will not be achieved by subsistence farmers as they currently operate. Most of these farmers are so focused on short-term survival that they have no vision of the future and don’t recognize the importance of soil stewardship, conservation, and good farming practices. Many lack the education and skills necessary to make informed production decisions and try new practices. So, one of the paths to increased food production in developing countries is to make subsistence farmers much more productive and profitable, so that they can become entrepreneurs through individual breakthroughs and improved collective organization. In other words, we must disseminate modern techniques and the best inputs to help smallholder farmers make a big quantitative and qualitative leap forward. We must abandon the idea that—because we are working with poor farmers — we must promote low-cost, technically sub-par practices. Only 21st century technology applied to all aspects of agricultural production, commercialization, and processing will ensure long-term food security and financial sustainability for subsistence farmers. The most challenging issue is to identify the farmers in each community who are open to progress and ready to take risks to change their traditional practices. Others will imitate these leaders when they see the production and income improvements. Most important, it is essential to foster mutually rewarding business relationships between smallholders, larger farmers, and agribusinesses at all phases of the agricultural value chains. The key question is how governments in developing countries can support and promote large-scale agricultural modernization among subsistence farmers that will lead to nationwide food security. First, governments must commit more resources to long-term investment in agriculture. This means funding to repair, operate, and maintain infrastructure such as irrigation and drainage systems, farm-to-market roads, transportation networks, and packing and processing facilities. Long-term agricultural loans, crop insurance, and disaster recovery programs should be instituted. Cooperatives to allow farmers to leverage their inputs and sell their outputs should be facilitated, and creating efficient and honest markets should be a priority. In addition, governments must protect and stimulate national production through legal and regulatory reforms that create an enabling environment, as well as facilitate business development, provide access to affordable credit, scale-up research and extension services, and strengthen the rule of law. Farmers of all socioeconomic backgrounds are resistant to changing their practices. However, when farmers can see the results of improved soil preparation or new varieties, they are generally willing to consider new practices. With this in mind, it is essential to develop well-funded demonstration farms with trained personnel to expedite the transfer of new or improved technologies in developing countries. It is also important to identify and engage local farmers in the operation of these centers. The demonstration farms and accompanying training that we’ve helped set up in Haiti as part of the USAID-funded Feed the Future West/WINNER project have already had a tremendous impact on smallholder farm income (www.feedthefuture.gov/country/haiti-0). Increases in production have been achieved by some 30,000 smallholders as a result of the training and demonstrations conducted by WINNER. Overall, bean yields increased 95%, from an average of 568 kg ha-1 in 2009 to 1200 kg ha-1 in 2012. Corn yields increased 486%, from an average of 708 kg ha-1 in 2009 to 4,150 kg ha-1 in 2012. Rice yields increased 139%, from 2,200 to 5,260 kg ha-1, mainly due to the introduction of the system of rice intensification (SRI). Plantain yields increased from 13,000 to 20,310 kg ha-1, an increase of 56%, primarily due to the introduction of double-row planting. But the most striking innovation has been the introduction of small hoop houses with vertical agriculture for vegetables and flowers, which multiply farmer income more than 20-fold when well implemented. Thanks to the Greenhouse Revolution, smallholders in the mountains can build a hoop house in a few days and install drip irrigation systems that allow them to grow high-value crops throughout the year while using every drop of water. Over the next few decades, there will be room for considerable increases in food production in developing countries. If local stakeholders and donors are committed for the long term to apply high-yielding technologies at a scale that will significantly change the behavior and performance of subsistence farmers, then remarkable results can be achieved. ASABE Member Brian Boman, “Father of the Haiti Greenhouse Revolution” and Professor, Indian River Research and Education Center, University of Florida, Fort Pierce, USA; email@example.com. Jean Robert Estime, Chief of Party, Chemonics International, USAID-Feed the Future West/WINNER Project, Petionville, Haiti; firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos by David Rochkind.
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